Help me pick an awesome travel destination
June 15, 2013 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to go someplace new - what country/region should I explore this summer? Time, money, and the need to get away and rethink some things are all coming together for me right now. I've never planned my own international travel.

I plan to buy an airline ticket and a few nights at a hostel and just wing it once I get there. Where should I go?

- I like to wander, people-watch, get outdoors, explore, and eat cheap good food.
- I'd like to go for 2-4 weeks. May not get the chance to go for as long again for a while!
- I'm very flexible on dates: can go as early as late July into October.
- Not Europe. It's great, but I've already been there.
- I'm an American woman in my late 20's. I'll be traveling alone, so someplace relatively safe.
- Either cheap to fly to from NYC, or cheap once I arrive.
- Bonus for good internet infrastructure since I'm considering bringing a computer and freelancing as I go.

Bonus question: how does an extrovert stay sane traveling alone for several weeks?
posted by squasher to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Japan meets your criteria, I believe.

While it has a reputation for being expensive, you can actually stay and eat reasonably cheaply if you know what you are doing. The Lonely Planet book will steer you toward accommodation you can afford, and if you eat from street vendors, train station noodle shops, and convenience stores and grocery stores (from which you can get some pretty good food indeed) food is comparatively cheaper than the US. It's only expensive in restaurants.

It's very safe, and there's lots to see and do in a small area.
posted by colin_l at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thailand, Laos, Vietnam? Definitely cheap when you get there (getting there maybe not so much). Robust backpacker/young traveler infrastructure. Wonderful food. Go for as long as you can.

A bit higher difficulty level would be India. Very rewarding, but also very intense, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it for someone who hasn't traveled too much.

More left field would Africa, Madagascar, Reunion.

More expensive in every way, but very safe, Australia and New Zealand.

Hard to give too specific recommendations without knowing more about your interests. But you can't really go wrong -- you'll have an amazing experience pretty much wherever. Have fun and good luck!
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:50 PM on June 15, 2013

Istanbul was the best place I ever visited, but may not be the best place to visit at the moment :( If things clear up, though, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I guess part of it is in Europe but it's not, like, too Europe-y. Safe, internet everywhere, excellent cheap food everywhere. We are American and people were really nice to us and told us about their American cousin/friend/professor all the time. You could totally spend 2-4 weeks hanging out in Turkey - go down the coast (Ephesus is not at all overrated), Cappadocia, etc. But again, maybe not so fun if there's still riots and tear gas etc.

Morocco is also awesome, and extremely cheap once you arrive. We went to Rabat and Marrakech, and felt very safe, and you can't beat the food, for price or deliciousness. (THE FOOD. I have dreams about the food.) It might be kind of weird as a lone female - I was traveling with one guy and another girl, and without fail, people would address the guy, even though he was the only one of us who spoke no French. Internet was not as easy to find, but I was there six years ago, so I don't know what it's like now.

I am not an extrovert, but I think you would do really well staying in hostels. Even as a person who is not outgoing at all, I've always ended up making random friends in hostels when I've been by myself - pick ones that have activities and bar crawls etc., as they tend to be more sociable.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:59 PM on June 15, 2013

Japan is truly amazing, and it would more than meet your criteria for a different experience as well as probably being the safest country in the world. Within your dates I would definitely recommend going in October for the autumn leaves (though expect crowds in the best areas), as July and August are really hot/humid and there are hurricanes in September. If you want to wander around the country, definitely get yourself a JR pass, and check out for more info. On the other hand, Japan is pretty crap for wi-fi - it basically does not exist except in McD's and Starbucks, and they have their own galapagos mobile system that can be a headache to navigate as a tourist. I would also recommend booking accommodation in advance as it's not really a hostel-culture like Southeast Asia. So this may not fit your criteria of wanting to be more spontaneous. It's also not that cheap to get to nor in-country.

I think the more obvious first destination for you would be Southeast Asia - my first international solo trip as a mid-20s female was to Bangkok and Siem Reap, and it was really cheap, safe (with the usual precautions for pickpockets, not walking after dark etc), so vibrantly different to the West, and great for spur-of-the-moment kind of travel. If going for up to 4 weeks I would spend it in just one or two countries - Thailand is great for a first-timer, as it is sufficiently different but you can still have some comforts of home (great healthcare in Bangkok, you can generally get by with English, good transport infrastructure etc). A lot of places in SEA will be in monsoon season in July and August, which may be good for getting off-peak rates, but I think weather may be more pleasant around October.

In terms of being an extravert: it is hard to not interact with fellow travellers, especially in hostel-culture places like Southeast Asia! It may be harder if you're the type to want to stay in expensive hotels, but even then, when you're alone you'd be surprised at the number of unique encounters you can have with other people.
posted by pikeandshield at 4:02 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been lucky enough to travel some in SE Asia in the last few years (solo traveller, M, older than you are), and I can recommend the following:

- Penang, Malaysia is a place I visited in April and am heading back to in August. I like old Georgetown (I'm on the island, not the mainland), adore the food, and fell in love with a hotel there (Eastern and Oriental, probably not the inexpensive accommodation you're looking for, but it's an upscale and comfortable hotel for less than $225/nt). Beaches are out on Batu Ferrenghi (a little outside Georgetown proper), but I haven't seen them. I hear that if beaches are your thing, you can do better than Penang.

- Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam - Between the two, I liked Saigon better as a city for things like walking tours and comfortable street-side pubs and restaurants. Hanoi's street food was superior, and the old town area was one of the most culturally interesting (and grey and filthy) places I've ever seen. I need to spend more time in outlying areas of Vietnam (Hoi An, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang), but the cities are worth a visit. As for the people, Saigon is a hustle, Hanoi a grind. Very different feeling between the two.

- Singapore feels a little sterile and urban to me, but I've not spent heaps of my own time there. Business trips, mainly. But the food and the nightlife are worth mentioning. Besides eating cheap, not sure what else is truly cheap by SE Asia standards in Singapore.

- Siem Reap, Cambodia is worth it for the temples. Definitely (DEFINITELY) hire a local guide and a tuk tuk driver (or car) to get you around to see them. The Cambodian tourist authority (whatever the gov't office is called) is pretty conscientious about qualifying their guides, and I found the guidance and information to be way better than a guidebook. The city itself didn't do it for me (it's tourism-centric, which doesn't reflect any sort of "true Siem Reap" which may have existed decades ago.

Overall, I can also recommend reviewing the boutique hotels of places like Saigon, Hanoi and Siem Reap on TripAdvisor, and trusting the good reviews. Service in these places is really truly excellent, and non-hostel accommodation (think your own room and ensuite, clean and outfitted in a modern way) can be as cheap as USD20-30/night if you're willing to compromise things like a pool or hotel bar.

(I'm in the middle of researching Thailand for August. Taking a first class sleeper car on the overnight rail from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is looking like it might be a lot of fun, and cheap at the price. Keep that in mind if you end up considering SE Asia!)
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:30 PM on June 15, 2013

While the food can be expensive unless you plan wisely, Iceland might otherwise fit the bill nicely: tech-savvy, very unique landscape, geothermal hot springs, small but sophisticated capitol city with many English speakers, good hostel network (suggest Kex hostel in Reykjavik), friendly people, yummy hot dogs and a subset of oddball other foods. Oh, and the left half of the country is not part of Europe, geologically speaking.

However, July would be better than October.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:33 PM on June 15, 2013

Thailand was the first place I ever did solo international travel as a twenty-something woman, and it was perfect. Thailand is a great place to visit for so many reasons:

- It has an excellent tourism/travel infrastructure for pretty much any budget.
- It hits that sweet spot between being very different culturally and yet also being a pretty safe/easy place to travel, because of that infrastructure and because Thai people are generally very friendly (especially once you get out of the major tourist areas).
- Amazing (and cheap!) food at all levels from street stalls to fancy restaurants.
- Variety: Over the course of your trip you could go from sleeping in a hut on the beach to shopping in Bangkok to a visiting an ancient ruin to visiting a tiny indigenous village on a mountaintop.

Thailand is also remarkably safe, despite its weird reputation, though of course you'd want to take the normal precautions. But it's actually probably one of the few places where solo male travelers get hassled more than solo female travelers, because of the sex industry.

I did find other travelers to be a bit of a mixed bag in Thailand. A lot of people go there to party while they streeeeeeeeetch their baht as far as it will go, and then there's the whole sex tourism thing, which does exist and which is pretty unpleasant to see. But I found it was reasonably easy to avoid both of those things by staying in guesthouses that were on the quieter side and tended to attract people on the higher end of the 18-35 age range.

If you get tired of Thailand, you can hop over to Laos, which is both charming and beautiful and also has a lot of adventure (ask me about the time my overnight bus on the dirt road through the mountains picked up a dead cow to ride in the front seat), but which would be a tougher place to rely on wireless.

I am so, so jealous.
posted by lunasol at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Japan can be incredibly difficult due to the lack of spoken /understandable English, and therefore will compromise your travel pleasure. Culturally, can be overwhelming for a first time traveler, and thus, can be lonely for a single American woman.

I suggest the following places instead:

Costa Rica
Malaysia & Singapore
Hong Kong

All of these places offer cultural variety, safety, infrastructure, and decent to very good English speaking accessibility. The problem with Thailand is not the Thai people, but visiting Western men who can make things uncomfortable for a single American women traveling by herself.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:57 AM on June 17, 2013

« Older Me want porn   |   Is a smart display a smart choice as an external... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.